The Theme of Jack London's "To build a fire"

Essay by Mike BensonCollege, UndergraduateA+, November 1995

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The significance of the words 'dying and death' in Jack London's 1910 novel, 'To Build a Fire' continuously expresses the man's dwindling warmth and bad luck in his journey along the Yukon trail to meet 'the boys' at camp. London associates dying with the man's diminishing ability to stay warm in the frigid Alaskan climate. The main characters predicament slowly worsens one level at a time finally resulting in death.

The narrator informs the reader that 'the man' lacks personal experience

traveling in the Yukon terrain. The old-timer warned the man about the

harsh realities of the Klondike. The confident main character thinks of

the old-timer at Sulphur Creek as 'womanish.' Along the trail, 'the man' falls into a hidden spring and attempts to build a fire to dry his socks and warm himself. With his wet feet quickly growing numb, he realizes he has only one chance to successfully build a fire or face the harsh realities of the Yukon at one-hundred nine degrees below freezing.

Falling snow from a tree blots out the fire and the character realizes 'he had just heard his own sentence of death.' Jack London introduces death to the reader in this scene.

The man realizes 'a second fire must be built without fail.' The man's mind begins to run wild with thoughts of insecurity and death when the second fire fails. He recollects the story of a man who kills a steer to stay warm and envisions himself killing his dog and crawling into the carcass to warm up so he can build a fire to save himself.

London writes, 'a certain fear of death, dull and oppressive, came to him.'

As the man slowly freezes, he realizes he is in serious trouble and can no longer make excuses for...